Jan. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Business groups and activists lobbying for broad changes in U.S. immigration laws say they now expect House Republicans to consider piecemeal legislation this year and could start by tightening border security.
Party leaders have been discussing options for months. House Speaker John Boehner, who says he’s committed to advancing legislation, last month hired an immigration policy adviser from the Bipartisan Policy Center to work on the issue.
"Boehner has had many opportunities to shut down this process and he never has," said Randel Johnson, senior vice president for immigration and labor issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "We’re definitely working towards an expectation that the House is going to move forward on immigration."
House Republicans are wary about facing voters in November without changing immigration policies, and are cautious about embracing legislation deemed to be an "amnesty" that could be used by opponents in the March to September primary season.
The Senate in June passed a comprehensive bill that would offer a path to U.S. citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants after improved border security measures are put in place. It would require employers to verify employment by using E-Verify, revamp the visa system to increase high-skilled labor sought by technology firms and add temporary worker visas for longer-term jobs and seasonal agricultural positions.
House leaders say they won’t take up the comprehensive Senate bill. Instead, they’re discussing options for piecemeal measures, talks that will continue at the Republicans’ annual retreat this month, a leadership aide said.
Any differences between the House and Senate versions would need to be resolved, a process that would be difficult if Senate Democrats demand the pathway to citizenship that many House Republicans have said is a non-starter.
"The Republican Party cannot afford to alienate conservative voters by embracing anything like an amnesty proposal," said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, which is affiliated with the Heritage Foundation that backs limited government.
Boehner rejected Democratic accusations that Republicans’ refusal to take up the Senate bill means they’re not interested in immigration legislation. It’s "absolutely not" dead, he told reporters in November.